1 John 1:9 – Something Old, Something New

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” What’s the problem with 1 John 1:9? The problem is that it’s in the wrong part of the Bible. It’s a classic piece of old covenant theology that somehow found its way into the new. It’s on the wrong side of the cross (see Figure). Like snow in Hawaii or Nazis on the moon, it just shouldn’t be there…

But it is there in black and white and you’re just going to have to deal with it. So how do we read 1 John 1:9 in light of the finished work of the cross? The usual way is to read it as a tiny price tag attached to the priceless gift of grace.

“If you just do this tiny thing (acknowledge your sins), a gracious and good God will do this mighty thing (forgive your sins).”

Don’t you realize how obscene this is? If I gave you a mansion with no strings attached and you responded with, “Let me pay you with a piece of navel fluff – there, now we’re square,” I would be insulted. If you then went around telling others, “Give Paul your navel lint and he will give you mansions!” I would do a face-palm. And then I would have to bolt my door to the hoards queuing outside with handfuls of fluff!

It is ridiculous to think that you can pay God to forgive you. And yet many Christians are examining their navels for unconfessed sins because they think God is a sin-collector who trades favors for sin. Big sigh. The Creator is not some marionette you can manipulate. He is the Almighty One, the Ancient of Days who sits enthroned on high. And He dealt with your sins once and for all at the cross (see Hebrews 9-10).

So what is the right way to read 1 John 1:9?

The only right and proper way to read the written word is in light of the Living Word (that’s Jesus) and what He has done (meaning, the cross). Read the Bible indiscriminately and you’ll end up taking someone else’s medicine. You’ll be confused about everything and you’ll end up staring at your navel.

John is not preaching conditional forgiveness. He says as much in the next few verses. We are not forgiven on account of our works of confession but on “account of His name” (2:12). Only those who receive the gift of forgiveness get to call themselves “forgiven,” but the gift has been given already. On the cross the Lamb of God did away with the sins of the world (2:2).

So what’s all this business about confessing in 1 John 1:9? Why does John sound like he is quoting the Old Testament? Because he is quoting the Old Testament! John is paraphrasing an Old Testament scripture to illuminate a New Testament concept. Look at these two passages side by side and see if they resemble one another:

John is not preaching an old law (confess to be forgiven); he is using old and familiar language to describe something that would have been new and strange to his readers. In this regard he is just like Paul who quotes the exact same Psalm in Romans 4:7-8. Paul quotes Psalm 32 to show that we are blessed through faith and not works; John quotes Psalm 32 to show that we won’t be blessed except through faith. For that is what the word “confess” actually means in Greek. It does not mean review your sins. It means to agree with or say the same thing as another. Since faith is a positive response to something God has said or done, confession with the mouth is the articulation of faith in the heart.

Gifts are for those who want them

This makes perfect sense when you read the 1 John 1:9 in context. In chapter 1 John was addressing some unsaved dudes who thought they were sinless. In other words, they had a terminal case of self-righteousness. (I know it’s hard to swallow the idea that the Bible was written for non-Christians as well as Christians but it was. The good news is for everyone. You’re just going to have to deal with that too.) John doesn’t mince his words. He says these guys had no fellowship with God, they walked in darkness, and the truth was not in them. He was not describing Christians or the “dear children” of chapter 2.

If you are self-righteous, then you won’t see your need for the gift of His righteousness. If you think you are without sin, then you won’t see your need for the gift of His forgiveness. John writes to say, “That’s dumb – stop calling God a liar, agree with Him about your sorry sinful state, and receive His gift of forgiveness. Only those in Christ are truly sinless. Only those who trust in His grace receive the already-given gift of forgiveness.”

There is nothing wrong with 1 John 1:9. It is pure, unadulterated good news. Any problems that arise in connection with this verse stem from confusion about what makes the new covenant new. On the cross the Lamb of God carried the sins of the world. That’s what forgiveness is – it is sending your sins away. Now they are gone as far as the east is from the west.

To recap, the wrong way to read 1 John 1:9 is to think that God will forgive only those sins you for which you own up and accept responsibility. (This is nightmare theology!) The right way is to agree that the cross is the once and for time solution to all your sin. You have been eternally forgiven through the blood of the Lamb.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest treasures ever given to humanity. Don’t insult the Giver by trying to pay for His incredible gift; just say “Thank you Jesus.”
___E2R_logo_3_sm
Related posts:
- Completely forgiven? When confession is bad for you
- 12 reasons why Christians don’t need to confess to be forgiven
- God doesn’t do half-jobs: Why partial forgiveness is completely bogus

Comments

  1. Love, love,love it!!!!! This really is the best news EVER!!!! :))

  2. nailed it! spot on!

    i never have read of Psalms 32:5 until you shared it. thank you so much

  3. why can we identify false teachings when other ‘religions’ take one bible scripture out of context and build doctrine around it – b/c it doesn’t jive w/ what the rest of the Word says… but we don’t want to accept that it is false doctrine for a believer to confess sins? isn’t there’s a name for that…?

    and now i won’t ever look at my navel the same way again lol

  4. Well written! Well said!….a brilliant explanation of our forgiveness of sins being a ‘Done Deal! Thanks for the post!

  5. Paul thanks for encouraging a generation tol rightly divide the Word of God.

  6. Thank you Jesus!!

  7. Hi brother Paul,
    Thanks for sharing these Truths… they help to put to rest that grazing cow still being fed around. Even though what you’ve shared should kill it… I am sure people will still hide behind: ‘well, we confess to have our fellowship restored… once we sin we lose fellowship with God’. Praise the Lord for what you all are doing.
    You are blessed in Him!
    Lou

  8. This breaks sin consciencenous and makes us Christ conscience.

  9. randomuserrcb77 says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for the quick overview of 1 John 1:9. I wanted to share another link that recently did a great job of commenting on this verse. http://pureunadulteratedgrace.blogspot.com/2012/04/make-daily-confession-of-sins-to-be.html
    Hopefully you’ll enjoy the link as well.

  10. Rick Shafer says:

    Often some time during a day, I will say “I need a little John right now”. It really does not matter which of his 5 books but I do confess to mostly his Gospel. It is within John I find 2 truths: Grace was brought by Jesus when He came to be a man as man was suppose to be; and Love, the greatest commandment says Jesus. And John KNEW that; of all the 12 it is John who first truly understood Love. He was there at every work of Jesus; he was at the beating; he was at the cross; Mary, the bearer of Jesus, became John’s mother/responsibility. No where does it hint as to where he took her, when she died, or where buried–all for the one reason that it is the Love of Jesus that is to accepted, reckoned, and rest within. MMMMMMMMM think I will go have some John now; seem a little hungry suddenly.

  11. Patrick KWH says:

    When the preacher challenge his listener to accept Christ at the end of the church service because he sense that there are some unbelievers in his congregation and he doesn’t want to miss them out. So It is no surprise John preach 1 John 1:9 because there were many unbelieving Jews who are on the verge of conversion during John’s time. The same scenario applies to Hebrews 6:4-6 & Hebrews 10:26 as these letters were written primary to Jewish Christian (+ Jewish brothers/seekers) but the book of Romans has no such ambiguity because it was written to gentiles primary. Hi Paul! Keep up the amazing works you are doing! Good bless!

  12. Deborah says:

    Excellent explanation and sacred cow killer. Thanks for the post. I even learned a new meme…face-palm. BTW, no navel lint here :)

  13. Interesting piece, you say that no where else in the New Testament does it say to confess your sins, yet this letter which was written to churches not to non-believers, although they were certainly welcome to listen to the word. says basically the same thing as James: Jas_5:16… We also know that in the prayer that Christ taught to the disciples/apostles are these very important words: Luk_11:4… Yes we are saved by grace, yes we are forgiven, however, as the Apostle Paul admits he is the chief sinner, we all sin, every day of our lives we are tempted and sometimes we give in to a temptation. We are therefore expected to turn from our sin and confess it before God and ask for forgiveness. I have heard the term “once saved always saved” many times in my life, but I know that God has given us the ability to say NO and to walk away, even from salvation. We have so many in the church who have denied Christ, denied the power of his resurrection, denied the scriptures. After years of preaching an teaching the truth, they turn to the lie that others have propagated, That is why we have the passage in Matthew: Mat 18:15-17… As the apostle Paul tells the church at Rome, Rom 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are sinners, saved by grace, we do sin even after we have confessed Jesus as Lord and asked for forgiveness for our enmity to God, but we also go through life and sometimes we sin, we need to be confessors of those sins too, and we shall be forgiven. The words that John and James and the other apostles spoke is the Word of God given them by the Holy Spirit so that we who confess Christ, will not be lulled into a false sense of security as were some in the church of that day. Read Paul’s word to the church at Corinth, or Thessalonica.
    God bless and keep you.

    • Anytime you do something in order to get God to forgive you, you set aside grace. You cheapen the cross, insult the Spirit of grace and glorify the flesh. Confessing to be forgiven comes straight out of the old covenant. So does forgiving to be forgiven. Every scripture mandating confession – with the exception of James (which has to do with people forgiving people) – comes from the far side of the cross. We are not living under that covenant any more, except by personal choice. Confessing to be forgiven is a work of the flesh that appeals to our religious pride. It seems right to us but it in the end leads to death.

      When Paul referred to himself as chief of sinners, it was in the context of describing the time when he lived in unbelief and ignorance. Not once did Paul or any of the apostles ever address a saint as a sinner. You are not a sinner saved by grace. If you are a sinner, you need to get saved. After that you are a sinner no more. I have read every word Paul wrote and not once does he even hint that we must confess to be forgiven. Whatever error of omission is made in the post, Paul must have made too.

      Please limit any future comments to <250 words and resist the urge to cut and paste scripture. Thanks.

      • Thanks for this.
        Every time I confessed of something wrong I did I ended up going back to it again and again. I realized that I needed to repent and that involves the changing of mind with change of action. That’s when I found freedom. The Holy Spirit convicts the believer of our righteousness John 16:8-10. In a way He was telling me that I was better than what I was doing. So now I remind myself of who I am in Christ and continue to renew my mind with His word and move on.
        Paul I hope it made sense what I was trying to say. God bless.

      • John messed up. He would have done everyone a favour to rather say ” If YOU confess your sins He is faithful and just to forgive YOUR sins” There wouldn’t be any confusion. To me confessing sins has to do with my relationship with God and agreeing that what’s I did was wrong. He has already forgiven me. Glory to God!

  14. I think you have some good comments and thoughts around this subject. But still I think there is one small, but very important detail that most of the readers of this this letter, often ignores. And it’s found in 1:3… To me it is clear that the first part of this letter is not a message to the believers, as John is referring to them as someone he does not share fellowship with.
    He repeats this in 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.
    Doesn’t this sound like something you would write to someone who is not walking in the light?…

    To me this shows clear that the first chapter of this letter is not writhen to his “Teknion”, but to someone that must have been around the church, or in contact with the church, but not really being a part of the fellowship… To anyone knowing a bit about the struggle the early church had to maintain a sound doctrine, you also know that one of the false doctrines trying to entering the church was the doctrine of the Gnosis… So who is John telling to confess their sins? Is this a message to the church? I say no. If you read chapter 2, John tells us believers what happens if any believer sin. Then we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Here John is not talking about confessing our sin. He is telling us that we have an advocate.

  15. For years I thought that the Campus Crusade tracts were wrong because they were using 1 John 1:9 to address unbelievers when (I thought then) it was written to Christians… I did some study and realized that it IS addressed to non-Christians. I think the kicker is in 1 John 1:3-4, where it seems that John is writing to a group of people whom he doesn’t already have fellowship with (and after giving his credentials in verses 1-2), hence the words in Verse 3: “_so that_ you may have fellowship with us” and again in verse 4: “these things we write, _so that_ our joy may be made complete”. I see it as John explaining the initial confession of the sin of not believing in Jesus to a group of people who are still walking in darkness (referred to in 1 John itself), as mentioned in the post above. I think its easy for us to have the assumption that everyone who is part of the New Testament Church to already have a good understanding of christianity (or even the OT Law), but that may not really be the case…

    I agree that the apostle John is referring to an Old Testament scripture, but I think he (and the Psalmist) both refer to the OT sacrificial system, in where Teshuva (Repentance) has Vidui (Confession) as a one of the steps that needs to be done – i.e. Confession is part of the Jewish concept of Repentance. But this OT system had to be done over and over again. We have a new covenant now, a better one in which Jesus who has made _one_ sacrifice for sins for _all time_ (Heb 10:12).

  16. Tanks’ a lot for your comment on my comment :o)
    Sorry for using too many words.
    This was my first comment ever on Escape to Reality, so I’m living and learning.

  17. i think every one would agree that the word “confess” in rom 14:11 (every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess) – and in phil 2:11 (and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord) – means “to openly agree/admit/acknowledge/declare”. it is in fact, an intense form of the word ‘homologeo’, which is the same word base translated “confess” in 1 john 1:9.
    john is basically taking what paul says in rom 3:22-24 and 5:12 (all have sinned – we are all born sinners – and we are saved/made righteous by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work), and puts it into a simple, “how-to-do” way: ‘if you agree/admit/acknowledge/declare that you are a sinner, then b/c of what Jesus did, you are saved/made righteous by grace through faith in Christ’s finished work.’ and then he even continues – the exact same message paul was teaching – in the very next verse (v10): “if we say(conclude) we have not sinned, then we make God a liar…” (actually john surrounds v9 w/ the same statements…b/c in v8 he says “if we say we’ve never sinned, we’re lying to ourselves)

    • and btw, i don’t know anyone who uses paul’s statements in romans 3 and 5 to justify confession of sins for believers… they are always used to explain our fallen state – that we are all in the same boat as human beings b/c of adam’s fall (the kingdom of darkness) – and to proclaim the good news of Jesus to UNbelievers – so that they might be saved (transferred into the kingdom of light)! (col 1:12-13) :)

    • oops! need to include vs 25 and 26 in that romans reference – should be romans 3:22-26

    • what’s your take on 1 John 1:7?

      • sorry – didn’t get back on here to see your post. v 7 is pretty straightforward….

  18. Funny but the pastor at my church spoke on this today. Not the first time I’ve heard him talk about this subject. He initially mentioned what he was gonna preach about tonight that God was NOT gonna judge the U.S because of it’s sin. I thought amen, he finally is getting it. Then he jumped into the Grace teaching of the forgiveness of our sins past, present and future and about being careful not to take truth too far. I am curious however what Wommack believes/teaches on 1 John 1:9. I know that my pastor and he are pretty good friends. I have not followed Wommack but see him mentioned quite often here and thought you could share some insight..

  19. Rick Shafer says:

    This will most assuredly cause me headaches; however, in my opinion and ministry I have yet, in the States, to meet a Pastor who does NOT control the money. Examples plenty in the last 20 years; B____ at _____–he and his wife own the church, they are the Board, they are the Accountants, they control every breath that church makes yet it is a powerful church–why because of B____ Most strongly not! I do also believe that USA Pastors have come slow to Grace and its truly meaning: perhaps it is our Puritan and Pilgram forefathers, the fiery speech of J Edwards: Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God! We all grew up in fear that if we were not baptised by age 12 (for some reason that was when boys supposedly knew right from wrong up until then they were innocent). Not this boy! I was baptised at age 12 because my father was 6’3 and beat me the night before Church because he was embarrassed that his son was not baptised and here he was the Senior Elder and Chair of the Board. I have also found that the more USA preachers, TV shouters get people worried and scared the dollars roll in. We just keep a little Law to get rich (one Pastor actually bragged to me that after the bonus he was going to give himself after the Board signed off he was going to buy 2 more broken down homes and rent them to those “people” you know. Why I have 27 houses now.”Pastors keep people scared (LAW) to get money and (GRACE) to be liked which will increase the size of the church which will of course increase his money. The ONE phrase I read 5 years ago completely turned me around: we have all read and heard that we walk by faith and not by sight. But what I read was “AS WE WALK IN GRACE…….and I don’t remember what came next (left page early in book How to People Grow.) Why I simply cannot out give God to take my sins for of the Great 10 I have broken 10 to the 10 power. But Grace, ah Grace now in me there is no condemnation not now not tomorrow and yesterday is gone. It is a mystery but it surely is true.

  20. Hmmmm Seek and you shall find! I actually found a teaching lesson from Wommack on this very subject. 1 John 1:9 Now I just need to get my pastor to listen to this MP3 teaching!

  21. I cannot tell you how much your writings have meant for me today. I was given a choice recently in a ministry, I could either go by this false doctrine you are talking about–that our sickness, agony, torment are from God and so much happens because of unconfessed sin, etc, or leave the ministry. I opted to leave. I have been treated like an outcast for leaving by many. Thanks for being used by the Lord. Your words have been like water washing over my soul.

    • Hi Shannon, thanks for writing and sharing your story. It’s hard to leave but sometimes we have no choice. Grace and ungrace don’t mix. Neither does truth and untruth. At least you’re in good company. The Apostle Paul got kicked out of half the towns he visited! I hope and pray you find a welcoming environment soon.

  22. Hey Paul. I am working my way through this. It is hard to kill the sacred cow when that is where I get my milk. But I am willing to be milk-free to know the truth. Would you please tell me, or gimme links to other post to answer this question: What must a believer do when he realizes he HAS committed a sin? For instance, a believer gets mad and says something he shouldn’t. Just as an example. Thank you for your forthcoming response.

    • That’s really a question for your Father. Haha!

      This is going to sound strange, but I ask God to forgive me all the time even though I know he has. I do or say something stupid and out of habit I’ll say, “Father, forgive me.” The issue here is not the right or wrong way to deal with sin, but whether your choices are releasing life or death to yourself and others. If saying, “Lord, forgive me” helps you to receive the grace that he has already put on the table, then do it. However, if it ministers condemnation and makes you feel like you’re striving to merit his forgiveness, then don’t. Take a fresh look at the cross and renew your mind instead.

      • brothersteve55 says:

        Thanks Paul, both for your speedy response and telling me exactly what I wanted to hear..lol.. just kidding..you told me what I needed to hear..I guess it is more of apologizing than asking for forgiveness. Even tho that is a fine line, I am sure.

  23. Just saw this article. you said that repenting is OT, but Jesus not in the gospel but Revelations tell 5 of the 7 churches to repent. He did not say i don’t see your sins I only see me.

    • Actually I didn’t mention the word repent even once, so not sure how you come to this conclusion Steven. Regarding Jesus’ words to the churches in Revelation, I encourage you to check out posts written on those topics. Just enter Laodicea or Sardis, etc. into the search box at the top of this site.

  24. repent of sin and confess of sin have alot in common.

    • I would prefer that we are clear and precise in our choice of words and their meanings because so much time is wasted when people talk past each other. Yes, Jesus exhorted some of the Revelation churches to repent. But he never said “confess your sins to be forgiven.” If you would like to talk about repentance, I recommend this post.

  25. First off, I want to say that people like you are amazing. When I find someone who is able to look deeper into the Bible to understand verses that are contrary to the Finished Work it builds me up! I wrote an article myself on 1 John 1:9 based on a pretty intense exegesis. Here is my understanding of it without the article “if and when we agree with God concerning our sin. He is faithful and in his justice he has forgiVEN you your sins and flushed it away all things that are not right standing before God.” You see when we were saved we were forgiven once! The need to return to God with a guilty heart is a waste of your time when your spending it with Jesus!
    You have my email address and I am sharing this on Facebook. Get in touch with me if you want to or find the time to and I’ll shoot you the link to the article I wrote if your interested.

    • My mistake the verse says.. “forgiVEN all sins and flushed away all things that are not right standing before God in us.”
      My memory was not so good that I didn’t have to look it up lol.

  26. Darlin Tessah says:

    Thank God am not forgiven based on my confession but on the finished work of Jesus Christ.

  27. If you have accepted Jesus you in this acceptance should have also confessed all the sin you done are doing and will do , unless you still had some arrogance left and accepted believing that you would not sin again.My advice accept that your actions do not define you his grace not only defines you but gives you the power to keep the law, to love God and love your brother as yourself.The human heart unfortunately needs absolute assurance in its own wellbeing to be able to look past its self,God in his Grace and mercy has given us this assurance.If you confess your sin he is just and faithful to forgive your sins.His gift is freedom from sin now and forever.

  28. To be clear this confession spoken of is a one time confession that you are a rescued sinner, we do not see Paul continually confessing his sin , we rather see him continually accepting and expressing grace.

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